News: 26 Aug 2010, Ursula







You will recall I last saw the FIB as it was carried away in its blue container by the giant machine in Mindelo. I went home and it got onto a ship to Rotterdam. The original plan was for it to go from there directly to an airport in Germany to be flown to Zanzibar but since the ship Tarrafal was broken down we had to abandon its crates in Praia, so it needed new crates, and that wasn't going to get done in Rotterdam or in Germany.

So the plan was to send it to me in UK, and I could do a bit of maintenance and TLC on the machine at the same time. It was supposed to arrive in Rotterdam sometime around the 9th of August but that week I was in Sywell, Northamptonshire doing the scoring for the European Microlight Championships so the plan was made for it to arrive at Radwell on Monday 16th. This would give me a week to do my stuff before it had to leave for Zanzibar.

Monday morning, back home, still recovering from a successful championships (we think the first ever with no official protests) I got a call from someone at Excel Shipping to say the blue container had been in Rotterdam for a fortnight, there had been some sort of customs problem, now solved, but was still there accruing storage fees on the dock, what did I want to do with it? This was a bit of a surprise because I'd been expecting it to arrive here that day. I sent a rather cross email to Germany, probably it wouldn't arrive before Thursday, no way could I do all that needed to be done in just two or three days.

OK, they said, we can delay dispatch until the following Thursday morning, you've a week.

Still not long to do all I needed to do; but I had a plan, sort-of.

Packing the wing is no problem. It would fit easily into the same trusty piece of 30cm black corrugated underground drainage pipe which has safely protected my wings on our trips to Everest, Aconcagua, Bonneville and Kilimanjaro. The FIB, on account of its size is more tricky, but rather than building a complete new crate from scratch I'd been researching the idea of using a ULD, a 'Unit Load Device', which are those aluminium containers they use to load luggage, freight, and mail on wide-body aircraft. I'd even found one for sale from Airbase GSE, a company near Heathrow who normally rents them to airlines. The only problem was that ULD's commonly only come in a few sizes, the LD3 which is half-width, and the LD6 (otherwise known as a DQF) which is the size of two LD3's stitched together.

I asked Aimaro at Polaris and Peter Wicander, their Swedish dealer for exact dimensions of the deflated FIB. They varied a bit, but my conclusion was a DQF -might- just contain the FIB, but it would be tight, so tight I'd have to wait for the FIB to arrive, measure it, and then go and measure the DQF.

Frank at Excel shipping rang on Wednesday to say Ursula would be bringing the blue container from Harwich tomorrow. I thought Ursula was the name of the truck, Thursday lunchtime it arrived, and I found Ursula was actually a tiny girl who drove a very big truck. With the help of Articole's forklift we got the FIB unloaded and into my hangar, it had suffered no damage on the journey from Mindelo except the Dutch customs had cut both padlocks sealing my blue barrels; annoying in as much as with two little snips they had junked a difficult to obtain matching pair of padlocks with identical keys.

I measured the FIB. Steve from Articole asked me what I would do if it didn't fit in the ULD. My answer was 'plan B', though I didn't really have one, at last not for the time available. Next day, Friday, I met Ian Maycock at the Airbase GSE headquarters near Chertsey who showed me his DQF, I decided the FIB would fit in it - but it would indeed be tight, very tight. I bought it and we loaded it onto my trailer, amazingly light for such a big thing. It was made in Norway in 2003.

Back home it was immediately obvious the FIB wouldn't get into the DQF through the normal door, I'd have to make a new one. I spent the weekend washing the Cabo Verde grime, sand and salt off the machine (it's basically still in good shape, no corrosion, that ASF-50 has done its job well) and making a plan to modify the container in a way that was possible to complete in the three days I had from Monday morning when I'd be able to buy the necessary materials.

Basically several things needed doing: Cut the end off the container in such a way that it was replaceable, make some 'wheelbarrow handles' for the FIB so it could be lifted into the container, install a sliding floor so the FIB could be easily pushed right up to the end, install decent padded mountings and tie-downs so the FIB would not crash around inside during transport, and given that ULD's are only designed to be pushed around on special slippery floors, I needed to install new external strong points in case the whole thing has to be lifted by crane onto a ship.

It was hard work, but it all got done in three 16 hour days before a truck from Sovereign Speed of Hamburg arrived to take it away on the first leg of its journey to Dar Es Salaam. The FIB is a perfect fit in the ULD, it could have been made for it, there's 3cm to spare all around, and I'm confident it is secure enough to resist the travels to come - Zanzibar, Mauritius, Madagascar this year and Sao Tome & Principe in January.

My only regrets are that I had no time to install an improved radio-intercom system and a few other things I wanted to do to the FIB, but I'll do them when we're 'on the road'.

The other news is that Stephane will apparently not be coming to Zanzibar. The producers have decided to engage different 'guest' photographers for each episode. It still seems a bit uncertain, but the names I've been given are Matthias Ziegler in Zanzibar, Renaud Van Der Meeren in Mauritius, Ami Vitale in Madagascar and Tomás Munita in Sao Tome & Principe.

I leave for Dar Es Salaam on the 4th September, expect my next dispatch from there shortly after.

Micro Avionics - Suppliers of pilot intercom and radio equipment to the expedition
Joint Aviation Services, suppliers of insurances to the expedition
Articole Studios - GRP mouldings
SKYDRIVE, the UK Distributor of ROTAX engines
Polaris - manufacturer of the FIB
Cam-ARA - Suppliers of video equipment to the expedition